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This blog contains hundreds of original articles all FREE. Rather than run distracting ads for things you don't need I rely on subscriptions through the donation box or through PATREON patrons. For the time being, though, the donation box on this site is a better way to pay me than through Patreon, which I have only just started in 2017.

Micromastery has landed...

"Loving micromastery. Clever concept, well executed." Tim Harford.

"Micromastery is a triumph. A brilliant idea, utterly convincing, and superbly carried through." Philip Pullman.



Go and get it from a bookshop.

Or Buy online! Micromastery - learn small, learn fast and find the hidden path to happiness is published by Penguin books (UK) in May 2017. It will be published in China, Taiwan, USA, Germany and South Korea in the months after that.

You can get it at Wordery- click below

Or for those amazon junkies click this one:



refined versus complex information

Refined sugar is the new devil. Fat is a good old friend by comparison.

But once sugar was hailed as a wonderfood. In the inner city areas of England and Scotland 150 years ago refined sugar replaced many more complex ways of getting energy.

Then teeth fell out. A common 21st birthday present in early 20th centure Glasgow was a set of false teeth. Like many people, three of my four grandparents had false teeth at a pretty early age.

Information is another source of energy. It can also be over refined, complex or even organic. Video, TV, soundbites, recorded music, photos are all refined information. You can only have so much before there will be health consequences. Many video makers ban their kids from too much TV. I met a games maker who only allows his kids an hour a WEEK playing video games, extraordinary though that may sound. But I have never met a writer who bans his kids from reading...

Unrefined complex information comes from meeting people, doing business, being in the world, making things, travelling. More refined information comes from books. But the really refined stuff is video and recorded music- probably both together. The metaphor continues with the idea of digestion- when we rely too much on refined food our digestion suffers and we actually find compex or raw foods harder to digest.

Having an experience requires chewing and digestion, so does reading a book. But eyecandy on your phone or computer needs very little.

You can only have so much before your mental teeth start to rot.

The answer of course is a balanced diet. But also, like food, we only have so much attention to give. Give it away to tasty looking crap and you'll have none left over for the really nutritious stuff. You'll be too full of mental crisps and sweets to have room for a main course.

Travelling, long distance walking- good sources of complex unrefined information.



anxiety is an identity issue...up to a point

Too much strain in other areas of life make our tolerance for anxiety lower. Being stretched is good, but stretch someone too much in a direction that doesn't conform to their current identity and you'll produce strain. This is the damaging form that anxiety can take. People are more anxious nowadays about small things than ever before. Strain in other parts of their life is partly to blame. But also an identity in which 'being anxious' is OK rather than re-framed as being keyed up before something testing. Maybe because the testing is not really taken seriously (because it doesn't fit in with overall identity). So really it makes sense to have a flexible identity, reverse engineered so that anxiety will be interpreted as a challenge rather than a mental health threat. Such an identity might be entrepreneur, film and video-maker, explorer, social-activist...things that are open ended rather than the more closed artist, writer, academic student. Some identities, ancient and modern work better than others. Like names, they have a magic to them, of sorts.


more on optimism

non-perceptive optimism, blanket optimism gives optimism a bad name. Which is not good, since pessimism is a disease we can all do without.


future belongs to optimists

The future belongs to optimists..some say. Certainly optimists have a very attractive energy. But also we know that optimists can be potential pessimists who are too stupid to read the signs. An optimist in 1930s Germany was blind. So being a useful optimist also involves being perceptive.

Look hard for things that really are getting better. Find something you can be optimistic about. Find a good place to do it. Do a lot of it. Make the future.


rules or discipline?

Rules and discipline are different. Discipline is an outlook, a program, a way of organising the world as it impinges in a headlong rush upon oneself. Years ago I had to spend three months in hospital. On the second day it dawned very clearly I'd need routines to survive the boredom of the place. At every moment of the day I would have to have something to do, read, listen to, whatever. I needed a timetable. I see discipline not as time management but as time allocation. Another bit of your brain decides what you like doing, what you think you should do, and discipline is allocating the right amount of time. It's no good being heroic. I now write in two hour bursts. Before I would set aside an entire day - so inevitably there was a lot of wastage. So much so it really became a drag to even contemplate writing. One hour is not enough to get away from the sense of time pressure, three hours is too much for me- I'll start malingering- but two hours works.

Zen monks have a rigid timetable- every minute is accounted for. BUT they are allowed to break it anytime if someone needs their help or if some emergency impinges. The point is, they are never asking themselves 'er what shall I do now?'

The people I know who get the most done and seem happiest about it, allocate time well. They know themselves. The richest 'achiever' I know told me he needs 9 hours sleep. No five hour heroism for him. But when he's up he's running.

Time allocation takes into account wisdom we have accumulated about ourselves and the world over our lives. It is a balancing of right and left brain knowledge. The word 'discipline' is the sharp edge you need to keep up to the mark and not get distracted from your allocated time slots.

And though discipline is often linked to rules there are different. Rules are an attempt to simplify the world. Though they have a role, they inevitably distort the world because of this simplification. 

When we impose rules upon ourself and others it doesn't seem quite right. It's like a kind of failure to be alive. O Sensei, founder of Aikido, set up his first dojo and announced there were no rules. Then something went missing from the changing rooms. So he posted the only rule: No Stealing. The nagging, rather self important part of the brain- the accusing self- tells us we must do this and we must do that. Eventually we grow tired of this nagging and throw off all restraint. Maybe later to regret it. And be doubly self-berated for our failure. Discipline heralds from a different place. Whereas a rule is a kind of ad hoc thing, discipline is a world view, an honouring of your own time, the time you have at your disposal. It is an acknowledgement that you can only do so much. It is a break on fantasy and vague wishfulfillment. 


One definition of micromastery

I am indebted to reader Mark Ostermann for one definition of micromastery.

"Discrete, non-trivial, gameable skill aquisition."

OK! I can live with that! 


Omelettes, Micromastery and line sensitivity.

Since writing Micromastery I’ve kept up my omelette making, always seeking ways to improve. The style in the book is the rustic country-style omelette with a butter-browned base marbled with the lines made by scouring with a fork during the frying process. But since then I have gravitated more towards the classical style omelette which in truth is closer to scrambled eggs in concept than to a fluffy pancake which I suppose is how I used to think about omelettes. There are some great YouTube videos by top French chefs (André Soltner and others) that I really recommend if you want to see some masters at work. With a classical omelette you keep the pan off the heat as much as on it- that’s how you regulate the heat. You don’t want it too hot either- the bottom of the omelette should be uniform pale yellow and not brown at all. You flash the egg around in the pan with a fork, kind of like making scrambled eggs except you don’t want bare bits of pan showing through. When the top is still wet you gently roll it into a cigar shape and serve. That soft interior is what gives a classical omelette its heavenly melt in the mouth taste. It also teaches a good lesson- it’s pretty hard to undercook an omelette but it’s darned easy to over cook one and serve up some tasty rubber. This reveals what I call ‘line sensitivity’. Take painting a wall when you come up to the ceiling (which you want another colour). You have to be really careful on one side of the line- any mistake will pollute the ceiling with unwanted paint. But on the other side you can flap around with your brush and it’ll be absorbed by all the other paint used on the wall. With the omelette the line sensitivity is about focusing on NOT over cooking rather worrying about it being not cooked enough. You can undercook potatoes easily- not so omelettes- the line sensitivity is different. This takes the pressure off. Instead of walking a mental tightrope you are just butting up against one barrier with lots of freedom behind you for any errors. I think the main thing is that removing of mental pressure. To get good at something you have to be able to play at it a little. And you can’t ‘play’ if you’re worried and trying too hard. Other line-sensitivities: in film photography when you over expose shots you’ll usually be able to retrieve some kind of picture, but if you underexpose you may have something that is simply muddy- so err on the side of over exposure. Of course over time you get better and better at judging the line but this gives you room to manoevre when you are starting out. In long distance walking always plan with a very achievable daily distance in mind. You can always go further if you want. But if you plan even with a very slightly (a few km more) over ambitious plan it can ruin everything- you get blisters, run out of food, find you are far from shops etc. So I think working out which is the sensitive side of the line before you start is a worthwhile thing to do. You can be assured of success without having to worry too much. You get to play and have fun which is, of course, essential…